Our Teachable Moment
Given the rapidly growing awareness of the crisis our Earth home is in, I am sharing an essay I wrote after riding out Hurricane Sandy. It is more relevant than ever.
It’s catching up with us. The planet has had itself a good cry. That release of energy imbalance that we all need at times has just played out on a global ecological scale. Let’s hope for us it will be a wake-up call. Not that it would have been the first - but the ring tones are getting louder.
It’s been six weeks since Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, and the full impact of its scope is still playing out in ways big and small. As a teacher, I cannot help but think of the lessons we can learn from this historic experience.
For starters, a crisis of such magnitude should move us to clarify our priorities. In our race to get to wherever it is we are going our essential human needs are being compromised. We all have the same number of hours in the day that we did a generation ago. Yet the amount of information now at our disposal, with options for communication and access to knowledge, is virtually limitless. This has influenced, I believe, our society’s expectations of just how much we should be producing and trying to manage.
We’ve lost touch with the natural rhythms that used to guide how we interacted with time, space and place – key elements of our existence that now have no bounds. We bring our work home with us: to the dinner table, to our children’s soccer games and dance recitals, even to our beds. We hold conversations on our phones while trying to converse with the person next to us, resulting in communication that lacks integrity, and in the latter case, eye contact. Demands are ubiquitous, and what seems to matter most in our culture is being on top, and getting there as fast as possible. Conditions resulting from our efforts to get there have come to include emotional and physical unwellness, interpersonal disconnectedness, and environmental degradation. In essence, we are dehumanizing our world.
Yet the building blocks for life are not mechanical. Our exploitation of the natural resources that sustain us will increasingly impair the already injured state of our planet, resulting in consequences that ought to challenge us to face up to our way of life. In the wake of this storm, we would be wise to heed the message now, question this way of living, and make conscious choices that will help us heal and achieve a state of balance. Conversely, we must confront the potential consequences if we do not. I would posit that it begins with redefining our values, recognizing the priceless worth of our basic needs, and prioritizing what really matters to us. Synchronize these answers with our existing time, energy, and resources and we just may come to our senses as a civilization.
We heard government leaders declare that, at times like this, there shouldn’t be any party lines - that everyone needs to work together so that we may save lives. Really, though, it should always be about saving lives. Imagine what we could accomplish if political gaming ceased and everyone came together for the greater good - always. How many lives affected by innumerable unseen crises that have become mundanely normative – though no less significant - would be saved?
The road through this recovery process must focus on pragmatic responses that address the critical needs of individuals and communities. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge our arrival at a defining moment, indeed a crossroads, in our culture. We can no longer afford to look away from the effectual results of our unsustainable ways. Ignoring limits will only come full circle and dramatically test our own. We won’t have an app for this.
The biggest lesson for us may be to realize that we have the ability to change our course and mindfully choose our actions. As we look forward to ushering in a new year, may we do so with hard won insight, increased humility and sobriety, decreased egocentricity, and above all, hope for our future as a compassionate, responsible humanity.